It was office supplies day. We urgently needed some stuff we'd been putting off for way too long at the office, so we drove down to our local Staples (Staples Corner if you're wondering - no idea if there's a relevance in the name or not). The experience was quite something...
We'd set out a budget before leaving. We didn't need that much, just some basic supplies that included a shredder, some general bits and pieces (papers, folders, board pens etc.) and a wall calendar. After arriving, we quickly digressed from our original list and started looking at a whole spectrum of expensive gadgets we didn't really need - and then it all started. We were approached by one of their 'sales assistants' or whatever they call themselves.
'Can I help at all?'. Well, trying to be polite, I asked a simple question about whether the hard drive came with the device I happened to be holding in my hand (let me point out I was actually holding the box, which was empty)... He looked at me slightly confused, and informed me that 'well, that's just the box. The rest is behind the counter... [pause]. For security.' Seriously!? Did he honestly just say that?
It was just the start of a terrible retail experience. We asked about some other items we were looking for. One guy didn't know what a business card sleeve was. Another had to tell us they didn't stock them anymore but I could get it online. We tried to pick a good shredder but were indecisive (no reviews in Staples), so went online... and this is where it really got bad - not only could we find a larger range (we were on amazon - surprise surprise), but it was cheaper, and we had access to hundreds of customer reviews... And they would deliver to our door the next day.
In an effort to salvage the trip we looked for everything else... and failed. It got to the point that we were looking everything up online as we were walking around the store, and concluded it would be far more sensible to just purchase online and wait a day or two. And that's precisely what we did - with the exception of some board pens, which amazon told us were fairly good and about the same price.
Turns out, for our initial budget, we even bought a new laser printer - and we knew it would all be good, because we had read the reviews! So the real question is... Why would anyone, ever, use Staples? Yes, it's perfect for emergencies (that day when you really really need a printer and can't wait for tomorrow - because that happens all the time). But if you consider that it is inconvenient, the staff are badly informed and generally lack any knowledge about the products themselves, and 9 times out of 10 it's significantly over-priced, then what you have is a very large network of stores with no future.
I brought this up with my colleagues... They simply pointed out that not everyone is comfortable buying online. Which is a fair point today, but give it another 5 years, and most people doing the buying will have overcome this pre-conceived idea of internet security - or lack of it. Online purchases will have become ubiquitous within society (and that's for anyone who argues they aren't already), so the purpose of these stores really is quite limited...
I'm sorry Staples, but if you don't offer me something I can't get online - whether that's a better service, a better selection, or better pricing - I'm simply going to go somewhere else. It's really not that difficult.